Questioning homebrew norms after persistent phenolic taste

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Shoemaker

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I'm on the verge of quitting homebrewing. Its been about a year, and after many successful brews, recently about more than half of mine have turned out to be crap. I'm really sick of throwing out batches and wasting money and I can't figure out this problem I keep getting.

Like I posted a million times before, I keep getting a phenol taste to my brews (cloudy look, clove-hefe taste). I get this problem with my light beers and my dark beers I get a kinda of pukey smell, hot taste. Yeah I know its nasty.

Now after trying everything and becoming extremely frustrated, I'm beginning to question the norms in homebrewing, even though I might be attacked for doing so.

1.) I use Oxyclean free to clean my stuff. Is this stuff really safe to use? I always rinse thoroughly after using.

2.) I use star san to sanitize and don't rinse. Safe?

3.) Is there such a thing as overcrushing? I usually crush my grain twice.

4.) I leave my brews in primary for a month without secondary. Could this be a problem?

I'm really desperate. Any help would be appreciated.
 

SpanishCastleAle

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None of those things you listed point to a problem imo. Did you change any of those things you listed between your successful batches and your problem batches?

If you haven't really changed anything but are all of the sudden getting 50% bad batches I'd look at contamination. Any spigots/valves in the equation? If so, have you fully disassembled them and cleaned/sanitized them? Spigots on bottling buckets are 'usual suspects'. I'd consider replacing the easily/cheaply replaced stuff like hoses and nuke everything else (that is compatible) with bleach. Perhaps boil some things that are not compatible with bleach.
 

Yooper

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My first instinct is to blame chlorine. Chlorine in the water supply, or chloramines. Chloramines do NOT boil off, so if your water supplier uses chloramines that can explain the bad chlorophenols. Even if the water supply uses chloramines all the time, my understanding is that the levels can change depending on the water and the weather conditions.

I'd try getting my water ready the day before, and using 1/2 a campden tablet and letting it sit overnight and see if that works. Or, buy some reverse osmosis water (our grocery store has a machine, and it's $.78 cents for two gallons) and add some salts to it to get a good basic water profile.

Do you use plastic or glass? I use plastic, but if it's a contamination issue, you might want to switch to a glass carboy if you're using a bucket, just to see if there is an issue with some of your plastic items.
 

Revvy

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I agree with the above, except for grain crushing twice, I do one, two and four all the time. And have not had any issues.

Phenols can come from 3 major ways
1) Fermentation Temps
2) The cuumulative effect of a reaction with plastics and chlorinated water, and certain minerals in your water. This is kinda tricky because plenty of folks use chlorinated water all the time and don't get it, while others do from the get go.
3) Infection.

Somewhere above is where you problem lie. Not to the things you suggested. Get a handle on which of those and your problem wiil be over.
 

JuanMoore

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I'm on the verge of quitting homebrewing. Its been about a year, and after many successful brews, recently about more than half of mine have turned out to be crap. I'm really sick of throwing out batches and wasting money and I can't figure out this problem I keep getting.

Like I posted a million times before, I keep getting a phenol taste to my brews (cloudy look, clove-hefe taste). I get this problem with my light beers and my dark beers I get a kinda of pukey smell, hot taste. Yeah I know its nasty.

Now after trying everything and becoming extremely frustrated, I'm beginning to question the norms in homebrewing, even though I might be attacked for doing so.

1.) I use Oxyclean free to clean my stuff. Is this stuff really safe to use? I always rinse thoroughly after using.

2.) I use star san to sanitize and don't rinse. Safe?

3.) Is there such a thing as overcrushing? I usually crush my grain twice.

4.) I leave my brews in primary for a month without secondary. Could this be a problem?

I'm really desperate. Any help would be appreciated.

1) I use it also, and I also rinse really well (2-3 times with clean water). Oxyclean is kind of like a de-oxygenated bleach, so if it weren't rinsed well enough I'd guess that it could produce some polyphenols and clove like flavors. The taste threshold for polyphenols is very low. As mentioned above, this could also come from using water treated with chlorine or chloramine.

2) I also use star-san without rinsing.

3) There is such a thing as overcrushing. Besides just a stuck sparge, it can also lead to cloudiness, tannin extraction, or a husky/grainy flavor.

4) I also skip the secondary, and primary for anywhere from 4-7 weeks.
 
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Shoemaker

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My first instinct is to blame chlorine. Chlorine in the water supply, or chloramines. Chloramines do NOT boil off, so if your water supplier uses chloramines that can explain the bad chlorophenols. Even if the water supply uses chloramines all the time, my understanding is that the levels can change depending on the water and the weather conditions.

I'd try getting my water ready the day before, and using 1/2 a campden tablet and letting it sit overnight and see if that works. Or, buy some reverse osmosis water (our grocery store has a machine, and it's $.78 cents for two gallons) and add some salts to it to get a good basic water profile.

Do you use plastic or glass? I use plastic, but if it's a contamination issue, you might want to switch to a glass carboy if you're using a bucket, just to see if there is an issue with some of your plastic items.

Well I guess I forgot to mention that I brewed a helles with RO water and it turned out good, no off tastes. You think this is the problem? It is hit or miss, but if it varies like you said, the water could be the culprit.

I guess I'm surprised because I live in the forest (NJ forest) and use well water. Thought the water would be good to use.
 

Yooper

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Well I guess I forgot to mention that I brewed a helles with RO water and it turned out good, no off tastes. You think this is the problem? It is hit or miss, but if it varies like you said, the water could be the culprit.

I guess I'm surprised because I live in the forest (NJ forest) and use well water. Thought the water would be good to use.
Yes, I really believe that chlorine and/or chloramines could be the problem, except I don't think well water is chlorinated? :drunk: I mean, I don't do anything to my well water and I assume most people don't. I've never heard of chlorine or chloramines in well water- that's an additive.

But you could try buying "drinking water" for your next batch. Not RO, since the minerals are removed, but just plain old Poland Springs (or whatever) drinking water. If that fixes the issue, then you know it's your water chemistry.
 

TheMethod

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You could do a couple small batches changing each possibility and see what happens.

So do two 1 gallon batches, one with the well water and the other with RO water. Everything else in your method stays the same.

Do another two batches, one with grain crushed twice and one crushed once.

You don't have to mess around with full batches to figure out what's going on. Hopefully you can figure out and correct the issue so you don't have to give up home brewing.

Good luck!
 

jpsloan

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Sometimes municipal water supplies will choose to add chloramine on and off during the year, based on ba-dum-dum-dum... Which could explain why the issue popped up for you at once.

Yooper's advice is good stuff... I tend to get two wine buckets and measure out both my mash water and sparge water the night prior, and toss in a quarter teaspoon of potassium metabisulphite. Enough to allow chlorine to evap out and chloramine to precipitate, or whatever that junk does when it gets a snoot-full of campden up its butt.
 

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IMO, what your describing sounds much more severe than what you're likely to experience with chlorine/chloramines. I treat all of my water with campden, but a number of brewers around here do not and their beer tastes fine. And I'm not sure I could blame cloudiness on normal levels of chlorine/chloramine in the water.

I personally suspect you're dealing with a wild yeast. Clove is a very common flavor and it doesn't take much of those beasties to exert a very noticeable effect. Plus, the cloudiness could also be attributed to non-flocculent wild yeast.

I've got one of those bastards around my house and it hits every once in a while. When it does, I just pretend I'm drinking a belgian, but I don't like belgians!

BTW, what are your FGs?
 
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If I find out that water is the problem, is there some sort of filtration system I can get for my faucet? Going out to buy water everytime I brew seems a bit cumbersome.
 

BuzzCraft

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If I find out that water is the problem, is there some sort of filtration system I can get for my faucet? Going out to buy water everytime I brew seems a bit cumbersome.
yes you can, but campden is easy and cheap.

if you're actually throwing your beer out because it's that bad, i still say water's not your problem.
 

RCCOLA

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If I find out that water is the problem, is there some sort of filtration system I can get for my faucet? Going out to buy water everytime I brew seems a bit cumbersome.
With a well, the biggest prob. is iron. the only way to get rid of it is to use a softener, and that adds too much sodium for brewing.

I'm on a well, and buy RO and add salts to style. Look at it as a way to step up to the next level. If you would like, I will give you a water profile for a batch if you PM me.

I must stress again--If you're pitching hot and fermenting above 70F(except belgians), you aren't going to make good beer with the best water profile in the world.
 
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Well I don't see how a wild yeast can affect all of these beers. I use liquid yeast for my lagers and dry for my ales. I would say that this problem seems to happen more with the dry yeast but the liquid is not immune to this problem.

Sometimes I have had problems with attenuation. Like FGs in the 1.020 range. But I don't think this has an effect. My most recent clove like brew, an ESB, has a FG of 1.016 with an OG at 1.058 I believe. I will say that this, it took awhile for it to get going and it had a very subtle fermentation, but it did ferment out. However, most of my brews have a very active fermentation.
 

SpanishCastleAle

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Well I don't see how a wild yeast can affect all of these beers.
Once you get a wild yeast it can be a bitch to get rid of...or so I've read.

I don't think changing one thing and then getting a good batch really tells you that much since you're getting this problem ~50% of the time. Maybe that batch was one of the good 50%. That also seems to rule out water but who knows, I'd rather leave no stone unturned than have more bad batches.
 

jpsloan

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Once you get a wild yeast it can be a bitch to get rid of...or so I've read.
This is true enough. If it comes between giving up on brewing entirely versus replacing your hoses and buckets... I'd at least give new hoses and buckets a shot. Also, the spigot of a bottling bucket is a notorious critter hangout if you don't unscrew it and clean it out well each time. Just a thought.
 

DrColossus11

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I suspect it's one of 3 things: water chemistry, fermentation temps, or possibly under pitching yeast.
 

mariojr

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Are you possibly using a regular garden hose for your water supply? Sometimes the flavors that leach out of them can be mistaken for phenols? Just a thought.
 

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Consistent bad beer is not an uncommon problem, I've thrown out 5 successive brews. Like others told me, the reasons could be anything. Systematic experimentation is the only way to identify the problem, but who really wants to do that we just want good brew.

I did three things all brewers should regulary do - one , make sure your brew gear really is clean. Strip back all gear including taps and make sure everything is soaked and sanitised. If any equipment looks worn, replace it. Just cos you can't see anything doesn't mean it isn't dirty.

Two, minimise what can go wrong. Don't use the wrong hoses to transport any liquids, whether hot or cold liquid. Regularly replace plastic hoses even if they look good to you. Leeching can occur. Regularly replace fermenters - you can't see scratches that can hold germs.

Thirdly, understand your water. As the boys have pointed out, chloramines in water is a killer. In my case, this was a major problem - the area I lived in had poor water quality so was chlorimined (?) - problem solved by using sodium metabisulphite (campden tablets).

Since I did the above, I have not had any problems that was not a direct result of my own poor brewing techniques! But at least I can blame me rather than wonder if the fault is my brewing equipment.

Don't give up brewing Shoeey, the world needs more homebrewers.
 

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I am on a well, my water is very hard with a high iron content. 2 batches made with all well water were drain pours (astringent/phenol?). I got my water tested by Ward Labs, I dilute with 20% RO water & use the EZ water spreadsheet by -TH- to build my water. It has worked great.
 

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Check your bottling spiggot. You problem sounds exactly like what I experienced. Take the spiggot ALL THE WAY APART. Take the nozzel out and take the whole assembly apart where it rotates. Mine had some sort of lubricant in it and it had black slimy stuff in it. It was kind of hard to get to pop apart, but it will. Leave no cranny unexposed in that thing. Clean it out.
 
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Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I know my bottling hoses are not the problem because the taste is there before bottling. However, I will go over all of my fermentators, clean them thoroughly, and possibly replace them. I'm going to clean and boil all of my spigots from my mash tun and keggle and boil my copper manifold.

As far as water goes, I will use RO water. Any minus of using all RO water or should one add salts accordingly?

The poster who mentioned the garden hose might be onto something. I use a garden hose to clean all of my stuff. Maybe I should replace that too.
 

BuzzCraft

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Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I know my bottling hoses are not the problem because the taste is there before bottling. However, I will go over all of my fermentators, clean them thoroughly, and possibly replace them. I'm going to clean and boil all of my spigots from my mash tun and keggle and boil my copper manifold.

As far as water goes, I will use RO water. Any minus of using all RO water or should one add salts accordingly?

The poster who mentioned the garden hose might be onto something. I use a garden hose to clean all of my stuff. Maybe I should replace that too.
Adjust with salts...check out THs water spreadsheets and BobbyMs associated videos to get you started. If you've got an accurate scale for salt measurements, you're on your way. Good luck.

BTW, I think replacing your garden hose is a non-issue. If this is an infection issue, remember that these organisms are everywhere and a new garden hose will, IMO, be a waste of money (since it won't be sanitary either). You just want to make sure bugs don't have places to hide in your equipment, where they will come into contact with your sanitized wort and cause a problem.

Along these lines, it's really the things that come into contact with wort AFTER it's boiled where you need to concentrate. A clean mash tun, manifold, etc. is nice, but it's the fermenters, transfer hoses, aeration equipment, etc. where you should really concentrate your efforts.
 

JuanMoore

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I'd add salts to the RO water to build a profile suitable for each recipes SRM. I don't think just using a hose to clean your equipment with would cause any issues, but filling your HLT or MLT with one certainly could.
 

crypt0

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Sorry to bring this back from the dead - did you get anywhere with your experimentation? I'm having the same issue as you, and this thread has been helpful. I think I've narrowed my problems to 2 areas:

1) crushing to fine - with my corona mill, releasing phenols/tanins from the grains into the boil and beyond
2) fermenters - I didn't know i could tak the spiggots apart! I've always cleaned them best I could and run sanitizer through them.

I can say its absolutely maddening - cloudy/phenols in light beer/pale ale/you name it... even after a month or more of crash cooling and carbing after fermentation.

I've had the issue since my extract days, but even so I always crushed my steeping grains with my corona mill and have for the most part used the same fermenter from day 1. The only clear batch I have ever had was a batch i crushed (~1lb grains) manually with a rolling pin. I will not be doing that again any time soon!
 

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are you bungs or corks funky. Although they might seem clean, I get new ones periodically because I am afraid of the funk. Same with tubing, eventhough everything gets cleaned in PBW and starsan'd, I find the white rubber bungs to get a little twangy after certain batches. IMHO no matter what you do, only make one change at a time or you will never know what worked.
 

jjones17

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One problem that people often miss:

They think they are tasting phenols, but they are NOT. Everyone has different abilities to 'taste' things, and be able to summarize what they are tasting, exactly. For example, I was using the badly oxidized starter liquid without decanting in my beer. Tasted like phenols to me, nasty, chemicalish, medicinal, yuck. Well, my wife thought it tasted like bubble gum. Ended up firgured out it was actually the oxidized starter liquid I was not decanting. Once I started decanting, problem solved.

It may taste like phenols to you, but it may not be what you think it is. If it is phenols, I agree will previous posters sounds like your water is no good for brewnig. I hope you clear it up. If you have not already, re-study the common causes of off-flavours and look harder to see if you are making other errors, and mistaking the resulting flavors for 'phenols'. Doing this certainly helped me, I was ready to quit using liquid yeast :)
 

Wellshooter

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Sometimes the yeast IS the problem. I made 3 batches with a German Lager strain that I couldn't drink. Tasted like cough syrup to me. But I use the same equipment a similar recipe and same methods with American Lager yeast and get good beer. Go figure.
 
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